The Perfectly Pleasing Persimmon
By Dan Nickrent
Plant Biology Department
Southern Illinois University Carbondale IL USA
When people hear the word persimmon, if they know about it at all, they
usually think of the fruit you find in the produce department of the
supermarket. That species (Diospyros kaki), native to eastern
Asia, has a plum-sized fruit that usually lacks much flavor by the
time it gets to the US. Can you believe that there is a much better
substitute, possibly growing just outside your back door?
American persimmon, Diospyros virginiana,
is found from New York to
Florida and then west to Texas, primarily east of the Mississippi
river. Our persimmon is a tree 40 to 100 feet tall (the record tree is from Wabash County Illinois at 135 ft.). When mature it has deeply furrowed bark that forms a checkered pattern.
The leaves are simple and alternate. The species is
dioecious, meaning there are separate male and female trees. The
flowers are urn-shaped, with 4 floral parts (sepals and petals). The
male flowers have 16 stamens and the female flowers 8 sterile stamens
plus the ovary. The fruit is a berry with four prominent sepals.
The fruits of the persimmon are edible - but that statement must be
qualified! Before the fruits ripens, they are hard and their color is green to
yellowish. Although many books say the fruit is only edible
after a frost, I have seen some of the fruits on the tree ripen before
the first frost. And often the fruits ripen at very different
times on one tree. There are many clues that tell you the fruit
is ripe and ready to eat:
The last feature is the most important. If your
mouth puckers when sampling a fruit, it is not ripe! The
transformation from the unripe, astringent to the ripe, delicious
sugary fruit is truely amazing - the two forms of persimmon fruits are
as different as day and night. So if someone told you they once
tried persimmon and it was terrible, they probably sampled an unripe fruit.
- it pulls away easily from the branch
- the 4-lobed calyx can be easily removed from the fruit
- the fruit changes color to a peach or orange
- the fruit is soft to the touch and the skin peels off easily
- the fruit tastes sweet
As mentioned above, persimmons ripen at different times in different
places and even differently on the same tree. This year (2012) in
Southern Illinois, we had ripe persimmons in late September to early October, at least four weeks
before the first frost, but this could have been related to the drought
we experienced the previous summer. A sure sign that the
persimmons are ripe is the presence of the fruits on the ground around
the tree. The deer in my yard are the first to notice this, so
their presence there alerts me that persimmon season is upon us.
One can collect the persimmons from the ground, but for these I gather
only clean, undamaged ones. When ripe they are very soft, so
often when these fall the impact causes them to split open (I don't use
these). The second way to collect persimmons is to put a large
tarp under the tree and then give the tree a good shake (with a step
ladder I can get up a bit higher in the tree to shake it). The
persimmons that drop are ripe and ready to eat, and they stay clean
when hitting the tarp. And the third way is to use a ladder and
pick the fruits directly from the branches. But again, be aware
that only fruits that pull away easily from the branch are ripe.
Extracting and Freezing the Pulp
Now that you have your buckets full of ripe persimmons, you should
begin the process of extracting the pulp as quickly as possible.
If you leave these ripe fruits setting around for days, you will
have lots of fruit flies and some nicely fermented mush. I fill
the sink with water and wash the outsides of the fruits. Eliminate any fruits that have dark spots and hard dark areas near the calyx. Bear in mind that the fruits vary tremendously in size
from tree to tree. The larger fruits seem to have more pulp as a
percentage of their total volume than the small fruits. Remove
the dry, dark calyx and place the fruits in a food mill.
mills can be purchased online or at many different stores that sell
kitchen appliances (mine cost ca. $30.00). Before purchasing the
mill, I extracted the pulp using a collander and a potato masher.
This works well, but it takes more "elbow grease!" Actually, the
collander method results in a better quality pulp because it does not
remove the seed coats. But if you use the food mill carefully, you can
avoid grinding the seeds and get a lot of pulp quickly. If
ripe, the persimmon fruits should easily crush into a slimy mush
(sounds terrible, but it's not!). By filling my two quart food
mill, I usually end up with two cups of pulp.
Persimmon fruits may have different amounts of water depending upon how
long they have been hanging around on the tree. For those that are
drier, you may want to add a bit of water while processing them through
the food mill. I place the mill in a square pyrex casserole dish
and use a plastic spatula to scrape the pulp off the bottom of the mill
grate. Measure out two cups of pulp and place this in a plastic
freezer container. I usually have lots of yogurt containers
around, so I find these work well. I label the containiner and
place the pulp in my freezer. The pulp keeps very well for up to
a year in my chest type freezer. Bear in mind that
self-defrosting freezers, as are found associated with many
refrigerators, will not work as well because they go through daily
freeze/thaw cycles and food does not keep as long this way.
A Recipe for Persimmon Pudding
Cream the softened butter and sugar. Add eggs and mix well.
Add spices, soda, persimmon pulp, mix. Add milk and
mix. At this stage I find it useful to use my electric mixer.
It does a nice job of making the mixture nice and smooth.
Slowly add the flour, mixing as you go. When the batter is
smooth, pour into a greased 8 1/2 X 11 inch pyrex baking pan.
Bake in a slow oven (300 degrees F) for 1 hour 20 minutes,
or until knife inserted into the middle of the pudding comes out clean.
Can be served warm or cold. When the pudding is warm, I like it with a little
whipped cream, vanilla frozen yogurt or even just some milk. Enjoy!
3/4 stick of butter or margarine
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk plus 2 oz of milk (totals 14 oz or 1 3/4 cup)
2 cups persimmon pulp
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
[optional - 1/4 teaspoon of dry ginger or 1/2 teaspoon of fresh]
We have just one persimmon (Diospyros)
in the eastern US. But this is actually a large genus with over
550 species worldwide (photos of other Diospyros species on PhytoImages HERE). The genus is especially speciose in
Central America, Africa, Madagascar, and the Indo-Pacific region.
Here are some other uses of various species in the genus Diospyros (thanks to "The Plant Book" by Mabberley).
- D. abyssinica (tropical and South Africa) - tool handles and shuttles for weaving sisal
- D. blancoi (Central Malesia) - mabola or butterfruit are prized and eaten
- D. decandra and D. peregrina (southeast Asia) - topiary and bonsai in Buddhist temples of Thailand
- D. digyna (Central America, naturalized in Asia) - black sapote fruit
- D. ebenum (India, Sri Lanka) - the ebony wood of commerce
- D. kaki (Eastern Asia) -
Japanese persimmon, Chinese date. Dried fruits used and it's also a source
of sugar. Juice from the green fruits used to waterproof paper!
- D. lotus (Asia) - fruits eaten fresh, dried, or bletted
- D. malabarica (tropical Asia) - sticky fruit used to caulk boats
- D. marmorata (Sri Lanka, Andamans) - the ornamental and prized marblewood or zebra wood (with streaked figures)
- D. melanoxylon (India, Sri Lanka) - leaves used to make cigarette paper
- D. mespiliformis (tropical Africa) - wood used for construction, fruit is edible, and it's a medicinal plant. Wow!
- D. mollis (Thailand) - fruit a source of a black dye for silk
- D. mweroensis (central and southeastern Asia) - a fish poison and anti-bilharzia agent.
- D. quaesita (Sri Lanka, Andamans) - Calamander or Coromandel wood (grey-brown with black bands) used in Sheraton furniture
- D. viginiana (eastern
US) - in addition to pudding, also can be used for bread and muffins,
beer and brandy. In the Civil War, the hard seeds were used as
buttons and as a coffee substitute. The fruits can also be used to make
a syrup and ... ink! The wood can be used to make gunstocks and
Links to more on Persimmon
This series of pages goes into great detail about everything
persimmon! Shows an innovative way (Fiona McAllister of North
Carolina) to remove the pulp from the seeds and skin using a laundry
- Wikipedia. The page focuses a lot on Chinese persimmon (Diospyros kaki), but does discuss D. virginiana a bit too.